Texas Survey Scrutinizes Emissions from Barnett Shale Oil and Natural Gas Production

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) recently released its much anticipated Barnett Shale Formation Area Monitoring Projects survey.  The survey arrives amidst increasing press coverage of the opportunities and challenges of energy development in the nation's shale regions.  Conducted over three months in the latter part of 2009, the survey focuses on characterizing air emissions associated with natural gas and oil production in the Barnett Shale.  Out of a total of 94 monitoring sites spread over 5,000 square miles and six counties, benzene levels at two sites were determined to exceed TCEQ's short-term health-based comparison value, and at another 19 sites, TCEQ expressed concern about long-term cumulative exposure.

While TCEQ recommends continued and expanded monitoring, the agency also notes that at the majority of monitoring sites chemicals were either not detected or detected below levels of immediate concern.  TCEQ's survey memorandum lists a number of agency actions and recommendations.  These include: conducting additional stationary long-term monitoring to assess the influence of oil and gas activity on VOC concentrations, beginning regular helicopter flights to identify large hydrocarbon plumes from oil and gas sources, and investigating sources for proper permit authorization.

Beyond the increased attention that is expected to arise from TCEQ's recommendations, additional state-wide and national implications warrant consideration, including investigations, emission factors and controls, ozone implications and the threat of toxic tort litigation.

For a more detailed examination of TCEQ's recommendations and the statewide and national implications for oil and gas companies, click here.